Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gaseous Mass

What weighs more: a tonne of carbon dioxide or a tonne of methane?

Transportation is a weighty matter, especially when it comes to climate change. (Oh, what a line!) We'll talk in terms of mass here though, in an effort to sound scientific. Greenhouse gases (GHG) come mostly in the form of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Methane (CH4). The confusing part comes from people talking about tonnes of "carbon dioxide", or tonnes of GHG, or tonnes of "carbon dioxide equivalent", or "tonnes of carbon". And that's leaving out the issue of tons and tonnes.

First off, I like all this talk about creating a market for greenhouse gas emissions. To put it simply, the idea is to put a price on the privilege of dumping greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, so people and businesses will be able to consider the cost and decide whether or not they want to release the gas. It should also help in creating a competitive market for sequestering or sinking the gas.

The going rate for dumping carbon dioxide seems to range from $5.50 per tonne up to $12. There is even talk of much higher prices, like $50 to $100. You can see that "the market" still has some work to do. The average American emits 22 to 24 tonnes of carbon dioxide "equivalent" per year, depending where you look. Canadians have similar numbers, if not worse, but Canadians are assigned the emissions of the massive oil industry in Alberta.

Looking at numbers can get complicated. I don't want to get into the chemistry, but consider the fact that the mass of a CO2 molecule is about 3 times the mass of a methane molecule. Along the same lines, the density of CO2 is also 3 times more. But methane is said to have a stronger greenhouse effect.

This is why it's best to compare using the same tools. To work out what I contribute in terms of greenhouse gas per year, I used the Canadian Government Greenhouse Gas Calculator. A word of warning: I haven't figured out what units are used for the results from this calculator, but that shouldn't matter as long as you trust the tool and you use it to compare its own results. For example, the calculator website says the average Canadian contribution is 5.5 tonnes of "greenhouse gas", quite a different number from the 23.45 tonnes of CO2 equivalent shown here. It makes me think the government version is treating a tonne of methane as 1 tonne, instead of converting it to a carbon dioxide equivalent.

Until today, I've assumed I was a global warming saint because I ride my bike to work 4 or 5 times a week. It's true that bicycle commuting makes a difference, but my other activities still leave me with significant contributions. Compare my behavior 2 years ago to what I'm doing today.

According to the Canadian Government tool, I produce 5.22 Tonnes (5223 kg) of GHG, while the average Cdn, produces 5.5, and Ontarian is 5.7 tonnes.

Apparently, 41 % is from transportation, even though I said I drive once per week to work, I said I drive about 8000 km/year. (This includes the days I drive to work, plus weekend trips to visit family and some work trips; and of course cruising down Bloor Street on Friday nights with the stereo pumping.) 2.13 tonnes are from transportation, 1.4 from heating/cooling. All my cycling effort only brings me in line with the Canadian average.

Now let's look at the impact of driving every day. If I consider myself living in the same poorly insulated small semi-detached house heated by natural gas, but add driving to work 5 times/week, I end up nearly doubling my emissions.

Bike commuting does reduce the amount of greenhouse gas I create, but not as much as I had hoped. If a greenhouse gas market (or "carbon market") came into effect, I would need to make some big improvements to home heating and insulation just to keep below the Canadian average.

Part of the reason I like working this out is because it all ties together with other aspects of reducing dependence on the oil and gas industry and everything that's tied to. Even if you're more motivated by reducing smog in the city, these numbers are important.

In the end, 5.22 tonnes of whatever doesn't mean a lot unless you compare it to something. If you go to the trouble of working out your numbers with the same calculator I used, feel free to share your numbers here.


Darren J 1/18/2007 12:27:00 a.m. | 8 comments |

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Winter in Finland

Ah, the winter. I happened to find this video on Youtube of a guy cycling in "the arctic". He classified it as comedy, but I'm not really sure why. He's happily pedaling over the snow to inspiring 1970's-government-promo-music. Maybe he didn't intend it, but he makes winter cycling look easy and comfortable. Warning: the snow-covered pathways and frozen river will make you dream of the winters of yesteryear.


Darren J 1/10/2007 08:05:00 a.m. | 1 comments |

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

El Nino or Global Warming

How would Global Warming present itself, if not as a series of El Ninos? El Nino is caused by the warming of the Pacific Ocean, a patch of water warm enough that predominant winds will flow in other directions or become more chaotic. If the Pacific Ocean is warming up, we're not talking about a piddley body of water like Lake Simcoe or even Lake Superior. We're talking about the largest body of water on Earth. If Earth is warmer, then the Pacific Ocean will likely be warmer.

Maybe this year's weather is an isolated case. Isolated, except that it's following the warmest years in recorded history. Even if this is just an El Nino scenario, weather this warm has to have some impact on the weather in the future. The lakes aren't freezing over, for one thing. If they don't freeze, then they'll warm up earlier in the spring, won't they? I remember that science class well where you measure how much energy it takes to turn an ice cube into liquid water, then how much easier it is to increase it from 0 C to 1 C. In this case, I can only guess that all the energy from the springtime sun will go into increasing the temperature of the lakes.

The meteorologists in North America don't want to specifically say this weather is related to widescale climate change because they don't have enough data. However, the Brits, with a few more centuries of temperature readings (from back when the units of temperature measurement were based on the "number of seconds that hath pass'd whilst the smell of a horse's wind doth travel to the nose of a monk") have said that this is in fact related to climate change.

Jim Kunstler raises some interesting questions this week. It's not that he doesn't other weeks, but this week he isn't quite so inflammatory. If it's 67 F in January in Northern New York, what can we expect in July? If oil is dropping in price now because of low heating oil demand, what will happen when air conditioners start running this summer?

A couple weeks ago, I got around to watching An Inconvenient Truth. The graph that really stood out to me, and I assume to others, is the one that shows carbon dioxide levels over millions of years with the natural cycles from ice age to warm periods. The carbon dioxide levels track the temperature changes. The graph ends at today, showing the carbon dioxide levels now that are higher above any warm period than how far below they were during any ice age. The conclusion we should get from this is that current carbon dioxide levels are not natural and temperatures will likely rise, but Gore makes comments indirectly suggesting (a bit like how someone else indirectly suggested Iraq=9/11) that what we'll see is scorchingly hot temperatures, such as New York at 130 F.

In an almost contradictory way, the movie is honest with the audience by not bothering with units on any of the graphs, knowing the whole point is just to be struck by the sharp turns upwards of all the lines. As much as I feel the message of the movie is important and the movie is well done, I can't help but think about the powerful format of the movie, and the ability it will have to influence people to support environmental initiatives and, possibly, Al Gore.

The warm weather, the nomination of Stephan Dion, and An Inconvenient Truth are all coming together to create a frenzy of excitement among our news organizations. In Canada, reports are in on a recent survey stating that "the environment" is the most important issue to Canadians, trumping the ever-popular concern of health care. The insinuation is that people will now elect someone who is concerned about the environment, as if that, in and of itself, is their contribution.

Whether it's global warming or el nino this year, the problem still exists. No matter who is our environment minister, the problem still exists. Predicting the weather or who gets elected is a game that people seem to like playing. I like to play the game, too. We'll know people are serious when they start to look at the solutions, and you can probably predict which solution I would recommend.

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Darren J 1/09/2007 01:50:00 p.m. | 1 comments |

Monday, January 08, 2007


I often think about what kind of personal information I put on this site. You can guess some of the things that might be of concern, like identity theft. So I’ll mention something that changed for me in the past month using my second (third?) language of pig latin: ymay ifeway anday Iay ustjay oughtbay ayay ousehay.

Surprisingly, the RCMP haven’t listed ‘blogging in pig latin’ yet on their list of ways to avoid identity theft.

This has been occupying almost all of my non-work time: all weekend long, plus at least 3 hours every night. I don’t want to piss off the neighbours before I get to know them, so I try to stop banging around before too late. We’re updating all the wiring from knob and tube to the modern style. The only reason we’re doing this is because of an insurance requirement. It sounds like a torturous amount of labour, but it’s more fun than I expected.

I do miss having some free time to do some weekend rides. This would be ideal weather to ride down to the Leslie Spit.

More to come on the house, housing, and related issues in the future. It ties into the biking in quite a few ways.

Darren J 1/08/2007 09:02:00 a.m. | 1 comments |

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How to solve global warming - Reshuffle!

Rona Ambrose fails to sell Canadians on the Conservative environmental plan. She's getting canned.

It's a little known fact that Stephen Harper gained most of his experience from managing an electronics store in Red Deer, Alberta. He had to fire 3 salespeople before he could find one who managed to sell their $200 speaker cable. You know the stuff. It's an inch thick and is supposed to make your music sound flawless, for everyone who has hearing better than a bat. Unfortunately, Harper had to fire that guy when the store received hundreds of copies of Rosanne Barr Jazzersize video tapes, and he couldn't make them move.

... What a pathetic post! It took me a week to write that? Here, watch this:

That was found through a bike blog with one of the cooler names, Velocipete.

Darren J 1/03/2007 11:28:00 p.m. | 1 comments |